Rolling out COVID vaccines with equity at the center

May 5, 2021

NameLeah Tivoli

Title: Manager, Innovation & Performance

City: Seattle

Of all the COVID-19 vaccinations in Seattle over the past few months, about 100,000 (or 15 percent) of the doses have been administered in city-run sites. Leah Tivoli, as manager of the city's rollout, makes sure that small fraction contributes in a big way to Seattle’s vaccine equity goals.

Key to that work, she said, has been recognizing that the broader national rollout is stacked against equity—and that cities can play a powerful role in filling the gaps. To that end, Seattle went all-in on mobile clinics at supportive housing sites and pop-up vaccination events in communities of color before expanding to larger fixed sites. These relied heavily on partnerships with trusted community groups and agencies like the Seattle Housing Authority.

It’s working. In Seattle’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, large portions of Asian, Black, and Latinx residents aged 65-plus were vaccinated through the city’s efforts. “Our goal is to focus on community events and ZIP Codes that overrepresent those who have been highly impacted by COVID-19,” Tivoli said. “Because we know we’re making up for all of the design flaws that came out of the way vaccines have been pushed out.” 

Seattle’s vaccine push builds on earlier work that Tivoli contributed to in a big way: the creation of a large city-run COVID testing operation that has now administered more than 700,000 tests. (For a time, Tivoli went to work for King County to build testing sites across the Seattle metro area.) The data coming in through the testing operations has helped Seattle target where the vaccines need to go. “Because we have such a robust testing program,” Tivoli said, “we can look at the map and see real-time data about who’s being impacted by COVID.”

Pro tip: “Encourage confident risk-taking coupled with measurement. There’s no better time to act quickly, measure, and course-correct than a pandemic.”